ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** Justin Simmons talks to his mom pretty regularly. But these days, as Hurricane Irma threatens his family's home in Stuart, Florida, they talk even more often.
Thursday night, Simmons received a call at 9 p.m. MDT. It had been a long day of driving, but his parents had finally reached their first stop in Georgia en route to some relatives in Virginia.
"It's been a lot more often now, due to the hurricanes and things of that nature," Simmons said. "But yeah, she called me, asking a bunch of different things. We talked about flights for a little bit to get them out earlier, but they decided they were going to end up driving, due to being there for their jobs and … there were some things they wanted to bring with them in the car up to some relatives' house. They haven't seen the relatives in a while, either, so they figured they'd turn a negative situation into a positive."
His parents are part of an estimated 5.6 million Florida residents departing the state ahead of when Irma makes landfall.
Though the hurricane's projected path has shifted toward the west coast of Florida, much of the east coast is still under partial mandatory evacuation orders, mostly for manufactured homes and homes on islands or in low-lying areas.
But regardless of where Irma makes landfall, Simmons is glad his family will be safe, though he has some concerns about the aftereffects, too.
"It's a little stressful," Simmons said. "Almost every house in Florida is made, like, hurricane prep-wise. It's made to withstand hurricanes, but the crazy thing about it is you don't get flood insurance or anything like that because in Florida, it's bound to happen and so they can't cover every single home in Florida or else they wouldn't make any money. So that side of it is pretty scary, because if your house gets flooded, there's not really much you can do about the materials you have inside your home. That part of it is pretty stressful in and of itself. Just sending many prayers that way, not only for my family but for everyone — the Caribbean. Miami is going to get hit pretty bad and so just sending prayers everyone's way."
Simmons' family isn't the only group he's worried about. As a man driven by faith, Simmons is also concerned about the impoverished people who may not have homes or means to evacuate.
"I can only imagine," Simmons said. "I don't know what I would do, putting myself in their shoes as far as not really having a place to — not only not having a place to go, but having to withstand a storm of that magnitude outside, which is almost certain of death if you're out there. You're in the middle of those gusts and winds and that rain, and even the debris coming by. You don't know what's coming out of the wind from a debris standpoint. I'm hoping there's a lot of good community service around in different parts of the area in Florida where — maybe just for the time it's supposed to hit — the homeless can come in and at least have a few hundred sleeping bags for them to just hang out in for a few days. And I know provision is obviously a big factor into that as well, and I'm not sure what they would do with that, but hopefully in each community they have something like that."